November 26, 2014

We can’t address climate change without addressing meat consumption

Ruby Hamad wrote at The Drum on ABC (Australia), 28 April 2014:

The cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said, "It is easier to change a man's religion than his diet." It is also, apparently, easier to change the entire world's energy production.

Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report, "Mitigation of Climate Change", citing fossil fuels as the biggest source of emissions, with coal, oil, and natural gas the major culprits.

However, the panel also implicates animal agriculture, noting that "changes in diet and reductions of losses in the food supply chain, have a significant, but uncertain, potential to reduce GHG emissions from food production."

Seventy per cent of agricultural emissions come directly from livestock - and about 37 per cent of total worldwide methane emissions - and it is clear that moving away from animal products is not just potentially significant but downright necessary.

The IPCC findings come hot on the heels of another study, "The importance of reduced meat and dairy consumption for meeting stringent climate change targets", published in the April edition of Climate Change.

The study's lead author argues that targeting the fossil fuel industry alone is insufficient because "the agricultural emissions ... may be too high. Thus we have to take action in both sectors."

In 2010 a UN report, "Priority, Products, and Materials" concluded that, "A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products."

That report puts agriculture's global emissions at 14 per cent, and while not giving an exact figure, the researchers warn that "animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives". Subsequent research suggests emissions from livestock and their by-products may be much higher (even as high as 51 per cent). Even if we err on the side of conservatism and stick to the lower UN figure, it still indicates that agriculture is responsible for more emissions that all means of transport combined.

No one who cares about the threat of climate change is ignorant of the importance of renewable energy and a reduction in energy use. So why do we still have our collective head in the sand about the need to change our diet?

In an impassioned tirade against Earth Day (April 22), which he dismisses as emblematic of "the culture of progressive green denial", The Nation's Wen Stephenson calls for radical action, namely, "physically, non-violently disrupting the fossil-fuel industry and the institutions that support and abet it ... Forcing the issue. Finally acting as though we accept what the science is telling us."

I don't know what Stephenson's food habits are but, ironically, in a piece railing against denialism, he does not mention meat consumption once. It is rather extraordinary how we acknowledge the need to address climate change and then carry on with those very activities that are causing the damage in the first place.

While some media outlets do report on the link between animal agriculture and global warming, they also undermine the urgency by featuring stories on, for example, how to include bacon in every meal - including dessert. TV channels flog reality shows glorifying high levels of meat consumption, and fast food outlets compete to see who can stuff the most meat and cheese into a single, fat-laden item.

All as scientists warn of the need to move away from dependency on animals as a food source.

When those of us who are concerned by the devastating effects of animal agriculture raise the issue, somehow the focus shifts from saving the planet to respecting personal choice, as if the choice to eat certain foods is sacrosanct.

We have to compromise our personal preferences every day in the interests of public safety. Smoking prohibitions, speed limits, alcohol restrictions, even initiatives promoting recycling and "green" household products all affect our choices.

But, for some reason, requesting people reduce their consumption of meat is taken as a personal affront to their very being. Humans have been eating animals for so long, and in such large quantities, we think we are entitled to their bodies, regardless of the consequences.

Clearly, our dependence on fossil fuels has to change but it is quite remarkable that we actually consider restructuring our entire energy system as an easier and more viable undertaking than simply altering our food habits.

The Guardian's food writer Jay Rayner unwittingly demonstrates this in his reaction to a University of Aberdeen study that found a worldwide adoption of a vegan diet would reduce CO₂ emissions by a massive 7.8 gigatonnes. But, rather than take this on board, Rayner chooses instead to shrug his shoulders, declare that "the world is not going vegan any time soon" and condemn "self-righteous vegans" for "making airy proclamations about the way forward when [they] have no power whatsoever to make it happen".

But why don't we have the power to make it happen?

Even if we don't all go completely vegan, surely the takeaway is that everyone should eat less meat and more plants, and not just on Meatless Mondays?

It's easy to point the finger only at fossil fuels because this requires no major personal sacrifice. We can pin all the blame on big corporations, demand policy change, and then feel good about ourselves by declaring on Facebook that we are against dredging the Barrier Reef and we don't support fracking.

But meat is different. Meat means we have to change. It means we have to sacrifice something we enjoy, something we believe we are entitled to. And most of us simply aren't willing to compromise that entitlement, so we pretend that the idea of a worldwide shift to a plant-based diet is simply too ridiculous to contemplate. That's if we even acknowledge the crisis at all.

So we sign petitions and attend demonstrations. Some of us even drive less, take shorter showers, and use eco light bulbs. But nothing it seems, not even the looming threat of environmental catastrophe, could compel a significant number of us to simply change our diet.

November 24, 2014

How to connect an HP printer to your wireless network

For those of us with older HP printers (particularly without WPS capability; I have a Photosmart C4599 All-in-One), the ability to reconfigure the printer is maddeningly elusive. Today, we got a new modem/router combo from our telecom, so the printer needed to be re–set up on the new network. After trying several instructions per Hewlett-Packard, those of a video posted 6 years ago actually work. Why, one might ask, since it actually appears to have been made by HP, isn't one directed to it or something similar on the HP site? [They probably bank on your frustration driving you to just buy a new model.] [Luckily, since the video is no longer available,] The steps as I did them are listed here. They are probably similar on Windows.

Overview:  Connect your computer directly (wirelessly) to the printer to set it up on the network, then, back on the network, set up the printer on your computer.

  1. Have at hand your network's SSID (network name), authentication type (eg, WPA2/AES), and password (or "key"). You won't have access to the network (to look things up, unless you can use another computer) during the following process, because you will be connected to the printer's wi-fi instead. (You won’t have access to this page of instructions, either, so be sure to leave it open in a browser.)
  2. At the printer, restore its network defaults. Make sure its wireless transmitter is still on afterwards.
  3. At the printer, print out its network configuration page. Note the network name (SSID; probably "hpsetup") and the URL (http://…) for the printer's embedded web server. (Note: This may require restarting the printer first (and making sure its wireless transmitter is on.)
  4. Connect your computer's wi-fi to the device network of the printer.
  5. Open a browser page to the URL of the printer’s web server.
  6. In the browser, go to the Networking tab, and in the Wireless frame go to the Advanced tab. Enter your network’s (not the printer’s) SSID (remember: case-sensitive), activate the Infrastructure area, and activate and enter the authentication information. Apply. The printer will now be switched to the network, so the URL won’t reload when that's done.
  7. After a bit, print out the printer’s network configuration page again. It should confirm that it is now connected to your network. (Again, this may require restarting the printer.)
  8. Connect your computer's wi-fi to your network.
  9. The printer should now be available.

November 20, 2014

Renewable energy won’t reverse climate change

Ross Koningstein and David Fork, engineers at Google, write at IEEE Spectrum (excerpts):

At the start of RE<C, we had shared the attitude of many stalwart environmentalists: We felt that with steady improvements to today’s renewable energy technologies, our society could stave off catastrophic climate change. We now know that to be a false hope ...

As we reflected on the project, we came to the conclusion that even if Google and others had led the way toward a wholesale adoption of renewable energy, that switch would not have resulted in significant reductions of carbon dioxide emissions. Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach.

[T]oday’s renewable energy sources are limited by suitable geography and their own intermittent power production. Wind farms, for example, make economic sense only in parts of the country with strong and steady winds. The study also showed continued fossil fuel use in transportation, agriculture, and construction.

RE<C invested in large-scale renewable energy projects and investigated a wide range of innovative technologies .... By 2011, however, it was clear that RE<C would not be able to deliver a technology that could compete economically with coal, and Google officially ended the initiative and shut down the related internal R&D projects. ...

In the energy innovation study’s best-case scenario, rapid advances in renewable energy technology bring down carbon dioxide emissions significantly. Yet because CO₂ lingers in the atmosphere for more than a century, reducing emissions means only that less gas is being added to the existing problem. We decided to combine our energy innovation study’s best-case scenario results with Hansen’s climate model to see whether a 55 percent emission cut by 2050 would bring the world back below that 350-ppm threshold. Our calculations revealed otherwise. Even if every renewable energy technology advanced as quickly as imagined and they were all applied globally, atmospheric CO₂ levels wouldn’t just remain above 350 ppm; they would continue to rise exponentially due to continued fossil fuel use. So our best-case scenario, which was based on our most optimistic forecasts for renewable energy, would still result in severe climate change ...

Suppose for a moment that it had achieved the most extraordinary success possible, and that we had found cheap renewable energy technologies that could gradually replace all the world’s coal plants — a situation roughly equivalent to the energy innovation study’s best-case scenario. Even if that dream had come to pass, it still wouldn’t have solved climate change.

Incremental improvements to existing technologies aren’t enough; we need something truly disruptive to reverse climate change. What, then, is the energy technology that can meet the challenging cost targets? How will we remove CO₂ from the air? We don’t have the answers. Those technologies haven’t been invented yet.

[And then there's methane, with ~25 times the greenhouse gas equivalence of CO₂ and whose reduction would show effect in only a few years. Go vegan, people.]

November 16, 2014

Wind Turbines and Health: A Critical Review of a Critical Review of the Scientific Literature

J Occup Environ Med. 2014 Nov;56(11):e108-30. Robert J. McCunney, MD, MPH, Kenneth A. Mundt, PhD, W. David Colby, MD, Robert Dobie, MD, Kenneth Kaliski, BE, PE, and Mark Blais, PsyD

Objective: This review examines the literature related to health effects of wind turbines. Methods: We reviewed literature related to sound measurements near turbines, epidemiological and experimental studies, and factors associated with annoyance. Results: (1) Infrasound sound near wind turbines does not exceed audibility thresholds. (2) Epidemiological studies have shown associations between living near wind turbines and annoyance. (3) Infrasound and low-frequency sound do not present unique health risks. (4) Annoyance seems more strongly related to individual characteristics than noise from turbines. Discussion: Further areas of inquiry include enhanced noise characterization, analysis of predicted noise values contrasted with measured levels postinstallation, longitudinal assessments of health pre- and postinstallation, experimental studies in which subjects are “blinded” to the presence or absence of infrasound, and enhanced measurement techniques to evaluate annoyance.

Brief critique by Eric Rosenbloom:

“The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) funded this project ....” McCunney and Colby had already prepared a similar review for the American and Canadian Wind Energy Associations (which are industry lobby groups) in 2009.

The paper consistently implies that the inaudibility of infrasound makes it nonproblematic, but by definition infrasound is inaudible and there is a substantial body of research showing that it is indeed harmful. The review ignores conference papers and so bypasses the issue of measurable infrasound inside homes as well as the unique characteristics of wind turbine noise as presented by many acousticians.

In its assessment of epidemiologic studies, the review rigorously critiques those that correlate wind turbine proximity and health problems while accepting without question those that find no such correlation (for example, a Polish study by industry consultants). In all cases that attempt to correlate complaints with noise levels, the latter are only estimated and characterized as continuous dBA tones. The paper picks out for special praise surveys that set out to prove “psychogenic” causes of health problems, which could not be more biased. This section concludes with a warning against the “mistaking of correlation with causation”, which only underscores the authors’ desperation to dismiss health problems as pre-existing and to ignore the consistent evidence that those health problems disappear when people move away or spend time away from the wind turbines (which they would no doubt only view as more evidence that they are indeed psychogenic, as if people willingly suffer physically in their homes but not when they are forced to abandon them). And again, they insist on the quotidian nature of wind turbine noise as being no different from ocean waves or air conditioning, ignoring the ever-growing documentation that it is indeed unique, and uniquely disturbing to many. As with other complaints, the review dismisses sleep disturbance as a fault of the sufferer, not the giant wind turbine thumping away all night. This bias is simply repeated in the next section that examines – and dismisses concerns about – infrasound and low-frequency noise. Again, the paper even denies that any infrasound and/or low-frequency noise (let alone that from wind turbines) can affect health, despite decades of research showing otherwise.

Continuing in this vein, the review of annoyance (a health effect according to the World Health Organization) examines only efforts to show it to be due only to the complainant’s psychology, not actual noise. The review unsurprisingly gives pride of place to the “nocebo” theory that nonsensically blames complaints on the publicity of them.

In its conclusion, the review cites the World Health Organization’s Night Noise Guidelines as a non sequitur vindication that wind turbine noise is not a problem, but fails to note that those guidelines specify an outside limit of 30 dB, which no jurisdiction on earth enforces, let alone regulation of amplitude modulation and infrasound, or even adequate setback distances, all of which the wind power industry fiercely fights (eg). The review itself makes no siting or regulatory recommendations (which might harm the industry paying for this review), instead placing the entire blame for problems on those who suffer them. A shameful performance.

November 15, 2014

Comments on the Vermont campaign for a carbon tax

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) and friends in business and the legislature have proposed a tax on fossil fuels used in heating and transportation, starting at $5 per metric ton (“tonne”) of CO₂ and rising to $50 in 10 years (or $150 in 15 years).

Ninety percent of the revenue would be returned as tax cuts to businesses and households, which would rather nullify the incentive. The concern for reducing the burden on lower-income people is a sham, because getting a tax cut or even rebate in May won’t help to pay for gas or heating oil back in January.

The VPIRG press release trots out hurricane Irene as a warning of future extreme weather due to climate change. That is flat out bullshit. Hurricanes are a normal feature of the weather, and Irene was not even extreme — New Yorkers scoffed at its dissipation. Irene's damage was so great simply because it stalled over the Green Mountains. Climate change — as one part of our general environmental depredation — is a serious issue that is not well served by baseless fear mongering.

Finally, what about the second major greenhouse gas, methane? Besides every one of Vermont’s cows exhaling about 1 tonne of CO₂ per year, each of them also emits methane by belching and farting (not counting that contained in their manure) with a greenhouse gas equivalence of about 7 tonnes of CO₂ per year. With some 150,000 cows in Vermont, that's some serious emissions (1,200,000 tonnes of CO₂ and equivalent: $60 million at the proposed $50/tonne). And ignoring it is a serious omission in any plan claiming to address climate change.

If taxing cows as well as fossil fuel is not an option, how about giving some of the 10% of the revenues earmarked for energy improvements to subsidizing alternatives to animal agriculture. Much like the state makes it cheaper to buy CFLs and LEDs, why not also make it cheaper to buy vegan meat and dairy substitutes?